No swine flu vaccine till new year

Cayman looks likely to go through half of its peak flu season without the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

According to the Ministry of Health, Cayman may finally be able to secure the H1N1 vaccine early in the new year after the UK government signed an agreement with the health authorities here last week.

The peak of Cayman’s flu season is December and January.

Health Minister Mark Scotland said Cayman had found a new possible source for the vaccine.

‘To date, the H1N1 vaccine was not available on the open market and we focused our efforts on working with the UK and [the Pan American Health Organisation] to secure the vaccine’ said Mr. Scotland. ‘However, we are also now working with a manufacturer that can supply vaccine directly to us.’

But he warned: ‘Even so, because demand is outstripping supply worldwide, here too, supplies will only be available in the New Year,’ the minister added.

Initially, Cayman had expected to get the vaccine this month.

The US Centres for Disease Control has reported an unprecedented and early widespread increase in the number of flu cases throughout the United States, with most of the cases being H1N1. A similar pattern is expected in Cayman, according to health officials here.

The Hospital Services Authority opened a dedicated flu clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital on 10 November. In its first weeks, it was seeing five to seven patients a day, but in the past few days, more than 20 patients have been seeking treatment there for suspected swine flu, although many turned out not to have H1N1, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar said.

The Public Health Department has requested an initial 12,500 H1N1 vaccine doses from the UK to cover most of the high-risk groups, and has also been working with PAHO, Dr. Kumar said.

He said that arranging supplies directly with a manufacturer was a back-up plan, in case the UK and PAHO could not supply enough of the vaccine.

According to Dr. Kumar, PAHO will be receiving its first supplies – a million doses – in the second week of December. The bulk of its supplies, 33 million doses, will arrive between February and April.

‘These doses have to be divided amongst all Caribbean and Latin America countries and will be allocated according to population size. Therefore, we cannot be sure how many doses we will receive in each instalment,’ Dr. Kumar said.

He said he expected to receive a definite delivery date for the vaccine from the UK in the next week.

Cayman has registered a total of 109 confirmed H1N1 cases – four of these were confirmed during the past two weeks. However, the actual number of people who have contracted swine flu in Cayman is believed to be much higher, as tests to establish if patients are suffering from swine flu are not carried out as a matter of course and all influenzas with fever and coughing are being treated as swine flu by doctors.

Mr. Scotland told the Caymanian Compass on Monday that while he understood the UK health services were being overwhelmed with demand for the vaccine at home, it appeared that Cayman and other overseas territories were ‘down the ladder’ in terms of priority.

‘If we were higher on the priority list, we could have got some doses for healthcare workers,’ he said.

No overseas territory has received the vaccine so far.